Canadian pumpkin producers capitalize on American jack o' lantern shortage

Over half of the American Midwest's pumpkin crops were wiped out by record rain

Canadian pumpkin producers are carving out opportunities in the American Midwest after heavy rain threatened to cause a jack o' lantern shortage as Halloween approaches.

Some growers in the U.S. have sought help from other states and Canada to make up the shortfall in fresh product caused by a massive disruption during the key June planting season.

Between 50 and 60 per cent of the region's crop was wiped out by record rain.

"It has caused everybody to scramble and look to get them wherever they can,'' said Darrell Theis, co-owner of Theis Farms in Missouri.

About 40,000 kilograms of Canadian pumpkins were delivered to his eight-hectare farm earlier this month. That supplied about 25 per cent of the deficit.

Theis said it's not the first time he's turned to Canadian producers while faced with potential pumpkin peril.

"We're all in it together (and) every once in awhile we have to help each other out,'' he said in an interview.

The strong U.S. dollar makes it especially attractive for American producers to look north, added Philippe Quinn, owner of Quinn Farms near Montreal.

"I wouldn't be surprised that there will be some loads coming in from Ontario, maybe a little bit from Quebec,'' he said.

Like many Canadian growers, Quinn's operation is enjoying a good selling season. Canada grew more than 65,000 tonnes of pumpkins last year, with nearly half in Ontario, followed by Quebec and British Columbia.

In the U.S., however, wet weather has driven up pumpkin prices and prompted canned pumpkin manufacturer Libby's to warn of shortages of its pie filling since this year's harvest will last only until next month's American Thanksgiving.

Canadian pumpkin producers haven't faced the same problems.

Elaine Roddy, a vegetable crop specialist for Ontario's agriculture ministry, described this year's Canadian crop as average. Conditions were variable at planting, but improved significantly later in the season.

But Roddy cautioned that pumpkins, like all perishable goods, can be affected by poor weather in the key buying season over the next few weeks.

"Even in the next few weeks ahead, if we get into really wet conditions, things can change,'' she said.

She added that export opportunities for Canadian growers are limited because most of them plant only enough crop to satisfy marketing agreements with large buyers.

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